Host: Kadaitcha Pastoral Company
Written by James Christian
Once I was given the not-too-difficult task of driving a truck and trailers out to a set of yards on a station I’d blown into for a month or so’s work. I’d been to the yards a few days before, though only as a passenger, and naturally wasn’t paying enough attention to where I was. It was simple enough to get there: there’s a big turnoff at another set of yards. A good, wide, straight road a few cuts wide out to the west. A bloody obvious road, not just a wheel track or a cattle pad. You couldn’t miss it if you tried.
We’d spent the morning assembling gear to cart out there – portable panels, gates, pins, wire, the usual suspects – to set up in time for the helicopters who were going to breeze in in a few days to help make us look good, and the boss’ son Tom split the normal combination of truck, trailers and dollies so we could load it better, and squeeze in an extra trailer to boot.
Being a normal Territory cattle station only some of the trailer brakes and air lines were in working order, and the common sense rule applied: if you don’t go too fast, you shouldn’t have trouble stopping. That being said, the anchors on the old cab over can pull you up, fully loaded, in the same way George Gregan nailed Jonah Lomu when the Wallabies could actually play. That notwithstanding, Tom suggested we did the smart thing and change the combination of trailers and dollies around so that there were more operational brakes than not. All I had to do was back the rigid, dolly and panel trailer back into the rear dolly and set of crates, which is easy enough if you’ve had practice. Suffice to say the steer tyre tracks spelled supercalifragilisticexpialidocious by the time I was done, but I finished before sunset without bending a dolly drawbar
One of the helicopter pilots, Charlie, arrived a day early, so he was giving us a hand getting things sorted out. The plan, at the stage when I left in the truck, was that I’d leave in the truck ahead of Tom, who’d take some round bales of hay in the back of a Toyota, and tow out the loading ramp. Then Tom was going to hop in the grader and drive it back to collect the motorbikes. Charlie was going to fly me back to the house so I could get another Toyota load of gear, and so the game of musical chairs would continue until it was time for dinner.
The plan changed, the truck didn’t have a radio, and I didn’t know.
I poked along with my load, staring out the window, checking my mirrors, looking for tigers, the usual, and gaining confidence as I went. Dip here, cattle pad there, small washout next, no worries. The old girl could take a bit more speed, I’d be right. If I was early I could unload some panels… Next minute I was driving along a road I recognised – I was 30 seconds down the road to another bore. The road after the turnoff. The road that didn’t have anywhere to turn around on for another 20km or so. And I sure as shit didn’t have the skills to drive the combination of trailers and dollies backwards to where I needed them to be without creating what they might call ‘modern art’.
So, I planted my foot again and chugged north. I did some sums. I had to do 20km up to the next bore where I could turn around, 20km back, and another 10 or so out to the destination. I was probably going to take an extra hour to get there. Bugger.
Eventually I made it to the right road, having had no additional cause for excitement. I headed along, not quite barnstorming like Jonah Lomu, not quite doing nothing like Rob Simmons, more like David Pocock – reliable, carrying the weight of something heavy with ease, getting the job done. Then I hit some soft sand that, at 40*C, had me slipping sideways towards some bulldust. You guessed it – I got bogged. Pocock stuffed his knee. I tried backing up and padding forward a handful of times, but it didn’t do the trick. I popped the back dolly’s ringfeder and crawled out without it, expecting that since I hadn’t seen any grader tracks heading the other way, the others hadn’t made it out there yet either, and the grader could yank the rear trailer to the yards.
I was right, the other blokes hadn’t made it. Their plans had completely changed and now there were no joyrides in the helicopter. When I was about 10m out of the sand along they came behind me in a Toyota.
‘Shit, must be sticky here,’ said Tom, suggesting I’d been there for an hour. I considered my response carefully. If I agreed they’d think I was a clown for getting bogged and being stuck for so long. If I told them the truth, that I drove past the turnoff because I was lost or not paying attention, they’d think I was a clown. ‘Nah mate, I just got here. Yeah it’s a bit sticky though!’
The bastards saw my tracks on their way up.